Mumps is an infectious illness caused by a virus. The main symptom is swollen salivary glands (at the side of your face). It spreads really easily, so if you have it, you need to stay home for 5 days after the swelling starts.
- Mumps is spread by coming into contact with saliva or mucous droplets that are infected by the virus. These are spread by coughing, sneezing or talking, face-to-face contact within a metre or by touching a contaminated object, such as a used tissue or keyboard.
- Symptoms are usually mild, such as swollen salivary glands (at the side of your face), headache and high temperature. It often gets better without needing medical help. It can, however, cause serious complications such as deafness, swollen testicles or ovaries and meningitis.
- There is currently no cure for mumps. People with mumps need to stay home for 5 days after the swelling starts so you don’t spread the virus. If you come into contact with someone who has mumps, and you haven't had mumps or been fully vaccinated against it, you will need to have time in quarantine at home.
- If you have mumps or are caring for someone with mumps, practise strict hygiene, such as washing your hands with soap and warm water.
- Vaccination with the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is the best way to protect against mumps.
Video source: Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
What is mumps?
Mumps is caused by a virus called paramyxovirus, which is found in your saliva (spit) and secretions in your nose and throat.
- Mumps is spread when a person breathes in the virus that has been coughed or sneezed into the air by an infectious person.
- It can also be spread via face-to-face contact within a metre, or by touching an object infected from saliva and mucous, such as a used tissue or keyboard.
How contagious is mumps?
Mumps is easily passed from person to person. It is spread when you breathe in the virus that has been coughed or sneezed into the air by an infectious person. It can also be spread by direct contact with infected saliva, such as through touching a contaminated tissue or keyboard.
You can pass the virus to others for up to 5 days before you know you have mumps and until 9 days after the first symptoms. If you have mumps, you need to stay home from work, school or childcare so you don’t pass it on to anyone else.
How can I prevent the spread of mumps?
If you have mumps
To stop spreading the virus to others, people with mumps need to stay home from work, school or childcare for 5 days after the swelling starts. Because mumps is very contagious, if you have mumps or are caring for someone with mumps, you need to practise strict hygiene. This includes washing your hands with soap and warm water, covering your coughs and sneezes, using tissues and throwing used tissues in the rubbish bin.
If you come into contact with someone who has mumps
If you come into contact with someone who has mumps, and you have never had mumps or haven’t been fully vaccinated against it, you are required to be in quarantine at home. The quarantine period starts 12 days after your first contact with an infected person, lasting until 25 days after your last contact. This means you cannot attend early childhood centres, school, work, sporting events, social activities or shopping malls or use public transport for that time.
Who is at risk of getting mumps?
Anyone can get mumps, but you are at greater risk of getting mumps if you come into contact with an infectious person and have never had mumps or been vaccinated against it.
High-risk groups include:
- children under 15 months of age
- people born in New Zealand after 1981 who have not had mumps or 2 MMR vaccinations
- people born in Fiji, Tonga, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, as well as many mainland nations in Asia, who may not have been offered mumps vaccination as children.
People with a weakened immune system can also become seriously ill and develop severe complications if you get mumps. This includes:
- transplant patients
- people with illnesses such as leukaemia or HIV
- cancer patients receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy
- people taking high-dose steroid or immune suppressive medication.
Mumps and pregnancy
If you are pregnant and think you have come into close contact with someone with mumps, call your GP or lead maternity carer as soon as possible. Pregnant women who have received 2 doses of the MMR vaccine before pregnancy are almost certainly protected. Pregnant women should not have the MMR vaccination.
What are the symptoms of mumps?
The most common symptom of mumps is painful swelling in one, but usually both, salivary glands. These are just under your ears and behind your jaw. The swelling usually develops over 2 or 3 days, before reaching a peak and easing off. It tends to last around 8 days. The glands are sensitive to touch but not usually red and hot.
Other symptoms include:
- high temperature
- pain when chewing and swallowing
- sore throat
- loss of appetite
- mild stomach (tummy) pain
- dry mouth
Men and adolescent boys can experience pain and swelling in their testicles. Some people, mainly young children and older adults, may not have any symptoms even though they have mumps. The time from being exposed to the virus and becoming sick is usually about 2–3 weeks.
Can there be complications from having mumps?
In most cases, mumps does not cause serious damage to your health. In rare cases, it can cause serious complications, such as:
- hearing loss – in most cases this is temporary and will pass, but, in some cases, it can be permanent
- swollen testicles or scrotum (orchitis) – this affects 1 in 5 adult males with mumps and in rare cases cause infertility (inability to have children)
- swollen ovaries (which causes a more severe tummy pain) and swollen breasts in girls and women
- inflammation of your brain (called encephalitis)
- inflammation of the lining of your brain and spinal cord (called meningitis).
How is mumps diagnosed?
In most cases, a doctor will diagnose mumps based on the symptoms, particularly the swollen salivary glands and fever (high temperature).
If your symptoms are severe, or there are complications, you may be asked to have a blood or urine test, or a cerebrospinal fluid test (lumbar puncture or spinal tap). Your doctor may also ask you about any recent travel overseas. The risk of mumps is higher in some countries that do not have the mumps vaccine as part of their immunisation schedule.
How is mumps treated?
There is no specific medical treatment or cure for mumps. Antibiotics don't work because the illness is viral. Treatment aims to ease your symptoms and reduce the risk of complications.
What self-care can I do if I have mumps?
- Have plenty of bed rest.
- Place a warm flannel, wheat bag or cold pack against your swollen glands to ease tenderness.
- Drink plenty of cool fluids, especially water.
- Avoid acidic drinks, such as fruit juices, as they can stimulate your salivary glands and cause you more discomfort.
- Eat soft foods that don’t require much chewing, such as porridge or soup.
- Paracetamol can be given to help reduce your fever and ease any pain.
- Make sure you measure children's doses accurately and follow the directions given on the bottle or product packaging.
- Men with severe inflammation in your testicles may be prescribed a stronger pain reliever or corticosteroid to reduce inflammation.
Why is vaccination so important?
Vaccination is the best way to prevent mumps. No mumps-only vaccine is available in New Zealand. The combination measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine protects against mumps. Two doses of MMR vaccine are recommended after the age of 12 months, given at least 4 weeks apart. Having only one dose of the MMR vaccine does not give adequate protection against mumps.
- Once 2 doses of MMR are given, the vaccine provides 85% protection against mumps.
- Check with your GP or practice nurse to see if your child has received both vaccinations. If they haven’t, get them vaccinated as soon as possible. Vaccination is free.
- If your child was born outside New Zealand or you are not sure whether you or your child has had 2 doses of MMR, it’s safer to get vaccinated as there’s no additional risk to having a third dose.
- A small number of people who have been vaccinated will still catch mumps, but they are less likely to be seriously ill.
Read more about the MMR vaccine.
The following links provide more information on mumps. Be aware that websites from other countries may have information that differs from New Zealand recommendations.
Mumps Ministry of Health, NZ
Information for people with suspected mumps Auckland Regional Public Health Service, NZ
Information for people in close contact with someone with mumps Auckland Regional Public Health Service, NZ
Mumps The Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
- Mumps Immunisation Handbook 2020, NZ
|Sarah Godsell is a registered nurse with a specialised degree in Child and Adolescent Public Health. She has experience and a special interest in mental and sexual health.|